Musical Offering Program Notes
for February 26th, 2017, at Sundin Hall
by Jackson Bryce
Lili Boulanger (Paris, August 21, 1893 – Mézy-sur-Seine in northern France, March 15, 1918), whose full name was Marie Juliette Olga Boulanger, was a French instrumentalist and composer; she was the younger sister of another composer, Nadia Boulanger, herself a teacher of many important musicians. Their father, Ernest Boulanger, was a professor at the Paris Conservatoire; he was already 77 when Lili was born. Their mother was a Russian princess, Raissa Myshetskaya. When Lili was only two years old, the famous composer Gabriel Fauré, a family friend and later her teacher, discovered that she had perfect pitch; she learned to sing, and to play violin, ’cello, harp, and piano. She was chronically ill all her life, beginning with bronchial pneumonia at age 2 and continuing with Crohn’s disease for the rest of her short life. In 1913 at the age of 20 she won the Prix de Rome. She wrote The Sirens for solo soprano and choir; three psalm settings, of psalms 24, 129, and 130; a setting of Pie Jesu from the Requiem mass; Ancient Buddhist Prayer for tenor, chorus, and large orchestra; and several instrumental works. She was influenced by Fauré and by Claude Debussy, and in turn she influenced the music of Arthur Honegger.
D’un matin de printemps, A Morning in Springtime for flute and piano, is a lively piece in triple time lasting about five minutes, in a fast tempo interrupted by a slower mid-section. The rapid sections feature repeated piano chords accompanying scale passages in the flute, moving rapidly through many keys. The slower mid section begins with flute trills accompanying a piano melody, but then a lovely flute tune takes over and soars into the high register. This piece also exists in versions for solo recorder, for violin and piano, for violin, ’cello and piano, and for orchestra.
Anton Reicha (Prague, February 26, 1770 – Paris, May 28, 1836) was born to Simon Reicha, the town piper; but Simon died in Anton’s infancy. Anton ran away from his neglectful mother at the age of ten, and fortunately found an uncle Josef who brought him up as a musician. They moved to Bonn, where Anton got a job playing violin in the orchestra of the Hofkapelle where Beethoven, also still a youth, was playing viola; they became life long friends. Anton entered the university there against his uncle’s wishes; fled from Bonn when the French captured it in 1794; and then in Hamburg taught harmony and composition while studying mathematics and philosophy. He moved to Paris for two years, and then to Vienna where, just like Beethoven and Schubert, he studied with Antonio Salieri and Johann Georg Albrechtsberger. He fled again to Paris in 1808 when Napoleon occupied Vienna; there he spent the rest of his life, and was appointed professor of counterpoint and fugue at the Conservatoire in 1818. He became an important theorist, and wrote works about music composition. He also composed, and is best known today for his twenty-five wind quintets for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn.
The first of these, Wind Quintet in E minor, op. 88 #1, we hear this afternoon. It starts with an Andante introduction featuring a slow, descending e-minor arpeggio followed by a passage of intriguing mystery. Then it launches into a fast movement, Allegro ma non tanto, of great interest and virtuosity, featuring dazzling trills and passagework from all the instruments; its midsection is gentler and more pastoral. The movement shifts several times from minor to major tonality, and ends in the major. The Andante poco allegretto following is a theme with variations in mostly major mode, in a courtly, dancelike style. Then comes a very fast minuet, marked Allegro vivo, alternating from e major to e minor. The Allegro finale is another charming dance, sounding almost like ballet music, again alternating in minor and major modes. All in all, this quintet is extremely delightful for the hearer, but also a ferocious virtuoso workout for our players, who by the end must surely be looking forward to a bit of a rest with delicious intermission treats.
George Enescu (Liveni, now renamed George Enescu, Romania, August 19, 1881 – Paris, May 4, 1955), perhaps Romania’s most important musical figure, was a teacher, violinist, pianist, conductor, and composer. He was already composing when he was five, and by a special exception was admitted to study at the Vienna Conservatory, aged seven. He graduated at age 12, went to Paris to study at the Conservatoire, and heard his first mature work there in 1898 at the age of 16. He debuted in the States in 1923 conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall; he conducted many American orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic in 1937-38. He married Maria Rosetti in 1939, and lived in Romania and Paris until, after the Soviets occupied his homeland, he moved permanently to Paris. A famous violin teacher, he taught Yehudi Menuhin among many others, who said he “gave me the light that has guided my entire existence.” Many of his compositions are influenced by Romanian folk music, for example his two Romanian Rhapsodies of 1911 and his three Orchestral Suites of 1903, 1915, and 1938.
The Konzertstück or Concert Piece for viola and piano, composed in 1906, is an astonishing virtuoso display, extremely demanding of the players. But somehow it manages not to sound at all frantic, inducing in the listener an easy, relaxed mood. Hearing this piece I feel transported away to Paris, imagining that I sit in a café sipping something pleasant and watching life go by. The score reveals the piece to be in four sections, in F major, mostly triple time, then E major and C major, in triple and duple time, and then back to F major in triple time. But frankly one tends to be oblivious of such vital details, and is simply swept away by a glorious turn-of-the-century reverie.
Bohuslav Martinů (Polička, Bohemia, December 8, 1890 – Liestal, Switzerland, August 28, 1959) is generally judged the most important Czech composer of the 20th century after Janáček. He was born in his family’s lodgings at the top of the church tower in Polička, where his father supplemented his earnings, from being a cobbler, by looking out for fires and ringing the bells for services. Martinů quickly developed as a violinist, leading the Polička string quartet and giving his first solo performance at age 15. His community raised funds to send him to the Prague Conservatory at age 16; but his attendance was poor, and he was suspended regularly until being expelled in 1910 at age 20 for “incorrigible negligence.” In fact, he was rather more interested in pursuing Prague cultural life, and began to compose. He also subbed in the 2nd violin section of the Czech Philharmonic, and became a full member in 1920. At age 33 he moved to Paris to study composition with Albert Roussel, and never again lived in Czechoslovakia, though he returned for holidays. In Paris he heard Stravinsky, the avant-garde composers called Les Six, and jazz. Serge Koussevitsky, who replaced Pierre Monteux conducting the Boston Symphony, was often in Paris, and having met Martinů became interested in the composer’s La Bagarre, which was premiered to great acclaim in Boston. In 1931 Martinů married Charlotte Quennahen, a dressmaker with whom he had lived since 1925. Despite his various affairs, Martinů kept a sentimental affection for her and they remained a couple until his death. As the Germans approached Paris in 1940 he fled with Charlotte, and eventually came to New York; then he stayed in various places in New England, composing and teaching. At Tanglewood in the summer of 1946 he endured a serious fall, preventing composition until 1948, when he took up appointments at Princeton and the Mannes School. With a Guggenheim scholarship, Martinů returned to Paris in 1953, and then to Nice. In 1955 he came back to New York, but depression sent him agaim to Europe, where he taught at the American Academy of Music in Rome until 1957; from there he moved to Switzerland until his death in 1959 from stomach cancer. He was a remarkably prolific composer, writing in every genre, vocal and instrumental.
In the jazz ballet La Revue de Cuisine or Kitchen Review, the dancers portray various domestic utensils who enact a nasty little drama in the kitchen: Ms. Stirring Stick attempts to seduce Mr. Pot, though he is married to Mrs. Lid. Mr. Dishcloth also goes after Mrs. Lid, but is thwarted by the pious Mr. Broom. Eventually Ms. Stirring Stick makes it with Mr. Dishcloth. There are ten movements, with two breaks: Prologue (Allegretto), Introduction (March), Dance of Ms. Stirring Stick and Mr. Pot, Dance of Mr. Pot and Mrs. Lid; after a break, Tango (Love Dance, Lento), and Duel (Charleston tempo, Poco a poco Allegro); after another break, Entracte (Mr. Pot’s Lament, Allegro moderato), Funeral March (Adagio), Radiant Dance (March tempo), and Finale (Allegretto). The music features very complicated time schemes, often evoking jazz dance rhythms; other jazz elements can be heard, for example the chords in the piano part, the muted trumpet which evokes dance bands of the period, and double-bass pizzicato sounds in the ’cello.
(These notes are composed with the aid of remarkably helpful articles from Wikipedia and Oxford Music Online.)